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Watch what you post: Instagram pictures are used

Credit: Paul Inkes (Flickr)

Everything belongs to the internet: do I have any rights to my pictures?

To be clear: it is not our intention to sell your photos.

                                                                                  Kevin Systrom co-founder Instagram

With these words, the co-founder of Instagram Kevin Systrom addressed in 2012 a press release to the network users. One could assume that for the social media giant, the data backup of their own users seems important and yet there can be found countless posted images on the search engines of the Internet.

My father, a retired social worker, is still concerned about the online safety of his children. Although all four are adults, two even have children, but the worry never stops. Again and again, I was laughing about the habit from my father to search for our name in the search engine Google, there was never a reason to do so; until recently.

After entering my full first and last name, Google suddenly showed me all the pictures I uploaded to my Instagram account. Now I saw myself with a pint of Guinness in my hand, in my carnival costume at a party or laughing in a friend’s circle. Moments that I wanted to share with friends and are now open to the public. My surprise was huge and I went in search of answers to my questions.


Credit: Angelina Niederpruem

If you click on an image in the Google results, the website is displayed on which the images are stored. However, the images are not just due to one source, but to several. Instagram, the social media network of my posted pictures, was not there. But websites such as ‘Pictame‘, ‘Pictaram‘ or ‘piknu‘ – never heard of it.

All of these websites are confusingly similar in structure, which raises the question of whether it is not the same provider. At first glance, it becomes clear that the websites are similar to the official Instagram page. Not only the names have up to four identical letters in the same order, but also the similarity of the logo lettering is not to be overlooked. Pictaram and the other pages describe themselves as ‘Online Instagram Posts viewer’, which operates through the Instagram API.

The Instagram Application Programming Interface (API) is a programming tool that enables for persons of the public, blogger, and companies functions within a business account. For these business accounts, first, a request must be made, which in turn must be issued by Instagram. The platform policy that Instagram has set for using its own API and which must also be confirmed by the companies describes the usage and the permitted regulations in detail.

However, when reading the policy, it becomes clear that the above-mentioned websites, if they really act under the Instagram API, do not consider many of the points. For example, Instagram writes that “Instagram users own their media. It’s your responsibility to make sure you respect that”,

You can not replicate the core user experience of the Instagram apps or website. For example, do not build a media viewer

or “You can not use the API Platform to crawl or store users’ media without their express consent.”

But Pictaram and all other websites describe themselves as ‘media viewer’ and use my pictures and those of other users without their permission. So how is it possible that these websites advertise with the Instagram Logos and refer to the social network, but do not comply with the policy and even do not even have their own business account? How can these pages still access and use the content of the users?


Credit: Angelina Niederpruem

Instagram refers to these and other questions first to the settings of their own account. So this is the user’s mistake and can also be revoked. If my images are used by third parties, you have most likely granted these providers access to their own images. But since the websites are not a third party on Instagram, you can not give them permission. Another request via email to the press office of the social network has remained unanswered. Above all, the question of whether Instagram is in an entrepreneurial relationship with the companies and receives for the data transfer money could not be clarified until today.

Not satisfied with these answers, the next attempt to make contact with the websites mentioned above was in vain. While Instagram’s policy says “Provide meaningful customer support for your app and make it easy for people to contact you,” this is just another contradiction. Thus, the websites have no contact details or an imprint. However, companies and brands are always subject to imprint, provided that they are aimed at the requisition of goods and services or the general application of the company or the brand.

While in many forums and the question of a contact address, many different email addresses are referenced, Pictaram can be contacted via the messenger feature on Facebook. Pictaram’s Facebook page refers to its own website in its information about the company. However, you do not land on the Pictaram website but on the Pictame website. This is another assumption that these websites are under the same supplier.

The six different e-mail requests to the web pages remained unanswered only in one, so far not even the delivery was possible with the other five; E-mail address not found. Also to the request via the Facebook Messenger of the company, to delete my pictures and refrain from doing so in the future, took ages. The answer says: “Your account will be removed from the website in the next few hours. does not store your private information or photos on its server.”

So now we know that the websites act over the network and uses the API functions for companies, but have no profile. This question was asked Instagram in another email and remained unsuccessful until today. Pictaram continues to let me know in the answer, that the deletion in the Google’s results follows, “but it could take some time according to Google’s re-indexing policies.”


Sorry for the inconvenience.

Pictaram via Facebook Messenger

So what if Instagram does not react to my requests or if Pictaram is not deleting my pictures at all? Dr Thomas Schwenke makes clear in his blog, “that photos under German copyright law are only possible with the consent of the author for distribution.” This is also the legislation in most EU countries: Ireland excluded. That is why so many tech giants act here. The data protection must be revised.

However, Instagram wants to file a dispute every time with the US Arbitration Court because the company is based in California and American copyright law is not that strict. But since the German consumer protection has attacked 18 unfair terms at the end of 2017 made by Instagram, the subsidiary of the social network must now fundamentally revise its terms and conditions for the use of German users. This includes above all the rights to the images, as well as the jurisdiction of German courts. It applies; German Instagram user gets the German law.

Credit: Thomas Leuthard (Flickr)

In addition, in May 2014, the European Court of Justice ruled that every individual has the “right to be forgotten”. This includes the deletion of search results on Google and has been applied for by already 2.37 million times by private individuals all over the EU until the end of 2017. Most often, these applications are directed against linking on social networks like Facebook, Instagram, Google Plus, YouTube and Twitter.

And for this deletion, Google has developed a specially produced form, which can be found under the terms ‘Legal Removal Request‘. Also, the website supports the persons with the deletion of the search results on Google and Bing. Another point to counteract the misuse of your own data is to edit your own Instagram profile in the settings and yet again to consider whether this post should really be published.

Systrom states in its press release to the Instagram community that “Instagram users own their content and Instagram does not claim any ownership rights over your photos.” It is hoped that he will be right in the following words: “we will always work hard and that Instagram cares about the interests of its users as well as the misuse of other websites.” Instagram and all other social networks should do more to protect users in the future.

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